Pedro Antonio de Alarcon

ALARCON, PEDRO ANTONIO DE (1833-1891), Spanish writer, was born on the 10th of March 1833 at Guadix.  He graduated at the university of Granada, studied law and theology privately, and made his first appearance as a dramatist before he was of age.  Deciding to follow literature as a profession, he joined with Torcuato Tarrago y Mateos in editing a Cailiz newspaper entitled El Eco de Occidente. In 1853 he travelled to Madrid in the hope of finding a publisher for his continuation of Espronceda’s celebrated poem, El Diablo Mundo. Disappointed in his object, and finding no opening at the capital, he settled at Granada, became a radical journalist in that city, and showed so much ability that in 1854 he was appointed editor of a republican journal, El Latigo, published at Madrid.  The extreme violence of his polemics led to a duel between him and the Byronic poet, Jose Heriberto Garcia Quevedo.  The earliest of his novels, El Final de Norma, was published in 1855, and though its construction is feeble it brought the writer into notice as a master of elegant prose. 

A small anthology, called Mananias de Abril y Mayo (1856), proves that Alarcon was recognized as a leader by young men of promise, for among the contributors were Castelar, Manuel del Palacio and Lopez de Ayala.  A dramatic piece, El Hijo prodigo, was hissed off the stage in 1857, and the failure so stung Alarcon that he enlisted under O’Donnell’s command as a volunteer for the war in Morocco.  His Diario de un testigo de la guerra de Africa (1859) is a brilliant account of the expedition.  The first edition, amounting to fifty thousand copies, was sold within a fortnight, and Alarcon’s name became famous throughout the peninsula.  The book is not in any sense a formal history; it is a series of picturesque impressions rendered with remarkable force.  On his return from Africa Alarcon did the Liberal party much good service as editor of La Politica, but after his marriage in 1866 to a devout lady, Paulina Contrera y Reyes, he modified his political views considerably.  On the overthrow of the monarchy in 1868, Alarcon advocated the claims of the duc de Montpensier, was neutral during the period of the republic, and declared himself a Conservative upon the restoration of the dynasty in December 1874.  These political variations alienated Alarcon’s old allies and failed to conciliate the royalists.  But though his political influence was ruined, his success as a writer was greater than ever.  The publication in the Revista Europea (1874) of a short story, El Sombrero de tres picos, a most ingenious resetting of an old popular tale, made him almost as well known out of Spain as in it.  This remarkable triumph in the picturesque vein encouraged him to produce other works of the same kind; yet though his Cuentos amatorios (1881), his Historietas nacionales (1881) and his Narracionies inverosimiles (1882) are pleasing, they have not the delightful gaiety and charm of their predecessor. 

In a longer novel, El Escandalo (1875), Alarcon had appeared as a partisan of the neo-Catholic reaction, and this change of opinion brought upon him many attacks, mostly unjust.  His usual bad fortune followed him, for while the Radicals denounced him as an apostate, the neo-Catholics alleged that El Escandalo was tainted with Jansenism.  Of his later volumes, written in failing health and spirits, it is only necessary to mention El Capitan Veneno and the Historia de mis libros, both issued in 1881.  Alarcon was elected a member of the Spanish Academy in 1875.  He died at Madrid on the 20th of July 1891.  His later novels and tales are disfigured by their didactic tendency, by feeble drawing of character, and even by certain gallicisms of style.  But, at his best, Alarcon may be read with great pleasure.  The Diario de un testigo is still unsurpassed as a picture of campaigning life, while El Sombrero de tres picos is a very perfect example of malicious wit and minute observation.





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